Because teachers are often asked to write recommendation letters for many students, should teachers be given substitute time or paid time to write these letters, or should this be another accepted part of the job which adds to the demands currently placed on teachers' time?
It's so different at different schools, as some have pointed out. In smaller schools, I have colleagues who must write huge numbers of recommendations because she is one of two English teachers for all four grades. In a situation where it is almost a requirement, I say yes - they should be paid. But in my own situation, where if a student asks me and I think I can give them a good recommendation, I'm generally happy to do it as a favor.
I think, though, this comes down to the heart of what teachers are asked to do for free. You can only say, "It's just this one little thing" so many times before people start to get frustrated. In my own very large district, there is a movement to stick to the contract to the letter because so many "favors" were being asked outside of it for no pay. I've joined in in that I will stay after to grade work or write recommendation letters for an hour after contract time, but then I leave it at school. No taking work home unless it's a special occasion. It's working out for me.
I also feel complemented when a student asks me for a letter of recommendation. I have on occasion suggested that students might consider asking another teacher; as they might get a more glowing recommendation; however I seldom have felt that I was asked simply because I was available. I also teach Juniors and they come to me the next year for LOR's. I like to think they learned enough from me and thought enough of me to ask; otherwise they would have only asked their senior teachers. I have never thought of the pay issue. To me writing an LOR is a favor for the student, just as is offering extra help when it is needed, and to a large extent falls within the job description. To expect to be paid for it is to me a bit mercenary.
Since I consider the main goal of my class as to help students graduate and fulfill whatever their dreams are after high school, I see writing my students' recommendations as another part of the process. I know it can be cumbersome, and as a junior and senior English teacher I find myself writing many each year for colleges, scholarships, and jobs. However, I know how important they are for my students, so I don't mind. Truth be told, when I think about all the extra things I have to do- duties, planning, meetings, and other paper work- writing a students recommendation isn't so bad. It gives me a few moments to reflect on the good I see everyday in my students in hopes that their college will one day too.
A letter of recommendation is a personal endorsement. I can't imagine teachers being required to write them. How can one be required to endorse a student? When students have asked me for letters of recommendation, they have always approached me with the attitude that they are asking for a personal favor, and they are always appreciative of my time and my efforts on their behalf. I see writing these letters not as "part of the job" but as another opportunity to mentor deserving students and help them one more time before they leave me. It's great to be in that position, to be the person whose opinion has some weight in opening doors of opportunity for students who have worked hard and deserve those opportunities. Writing a letter of recommendation is a personal matter for me. It isn't a chore to be performed for pay. That said, I don't write letters for students I can't honestly recommend or for students I don't know very well.
As the person who posted this question, I'm pleased with the number of thoughtful responses. This question came about because of contract negotiations in a neighboring district where not writing recommendation letters was used to force negotiations to continue. I agree with the adaptable form letter idea, laughed with post 10 as my best former principal also would have laughed out loud, and didn't need to wonder at post 9 because I left teaching at the end of 37 years on a complete high with students giving me a send-off to gladden my heart, knowing that I had given my best each day, and that it was time for younger teachers to take over.
As one of the previous posts mentioned, if a student thinks enough of me to ask for a letter of recommendation, I consider it a compliment and am always willing to provide one ASAP. One of my old principals would have laughed out loud at the suggestion I get comp time for writing a LOR; she probably would have chewed me out for suggesting it as well, since she expected her teachers to put in multiple hours beyond our regular working hours. As another post mentioned, it's part of the job.
If you are in a position where you are unable or unwilling to give the time needed to the writing of letters of recommendation, you need to begin seriously examining your continued presence in the classroom. There are some great ideas for relieving some of the time demands in previous posts, but the bottom line is that you're being asked to write these letters because your students value your opinion of them and feel your words will be an asset for them as they pursue their goals. If you're not feeling complimented and affirmed to be regarded in this light, it may be time to consider a change of profession.
I don't think teachers should receive pay specifically for writing such letters. One reason is that I turn some students down, or at least tell them how honest I will be. So writing them is a favor, a reward and a gesture of goodwill towards students who have earned recommendations, and I don't think you can place a monetary value on that.
I consider it part of my job. I work for a small school, and I am expected to write a letter for each student of the graduating class. I don't get paid extra. I have them fill out questionnaires and write a resume, and that helps a lot.
I agree to a large extent with the previous post here about being complimented if a student asks. On the other hand, I have taught in districts where I was the only social studies teacher for 11th and 12th grades and therefore ended up with a lot of requests. It's still a compliment, but it's not as much of one as it might be in a big school.
Practically speaking, though, the form letter approach in Post 4 is the way to go. I do that as well. I always modify and personalize them, but I keep the same basic form so I don't have to reinvent the wheel. When you do it like that, each letter rarely takes more than 15 minutes, so it's not a huge deal.
I think it's part of the job.
I'm sorry, and I'm sure I'm going draw some fire for this one, but I'm too busy to count such small beans. If a student thinks enough of me to ask for my recommendation, I consider it a compliment and a part of our relationship as human beings, not as some sort of extracurricular chore. I went into education with my eyes open; I certainly could have chosen another career and made more money, but I chose this.
And, by the way, I've heard lots of teachers complain about the money and the workload. But I have never heard one complain about getting 14 weeks vacation a year. Go figure.
Interesting idea, actually! I always consider it to be an unfortunate part of the job; however, I also look at it as an opportunity to allow my best students to shine. Perhaps looking at it in the "glass half full" scenario is the way to go? Meanwhile, I'll suggest a few ways to skirt the issue a bit.
First, it's always more of an issue when I teach mostly juniors because they all come back to me senior year, of course. Therefore, if I find myself getting frustrated with recommendation letters, I simply request a shift in classes at the department level. I've taught all high school grades; therefore, it's usually not an issue for me to switch to freshman English, ... or sophomore. Of course, this requires an understanding department chair. Not everyone is blessed with that.
Secondly, I have a deadline set for students to ask me for that recommendation. I am fairly sneaky in that I have it buried deep within my syllabus/rules, ... but it's there nonetheless. Of course, I have often broken that rule for exemplary students, ... but I have the option of following that rule to the letter for students who "press my buttons," lets say.
Most importantly, I have a few form letters saved for this very purpose. One is a recommendation letter for exemplary students. One is for above average students. One is for average/below students. (This set of form letters is the one single thing that saves me the most time.) I always insert two extra paragraphs: one indicating the students extracurricular activities in school/community and one that gets very specific about the students personality and performance in English class.
Hopefully these suggestions will help a bit. I know, ... it's another one of those unfortunate, extra requirements of a rewarding profession. **sigh**
While I applaud the point you make about uncompensated time writing letters for students, I would have to agree with the point made in #2. There would certainly be an equity issue. As an English teacher I may gripe that I have way more work grading papers than the driver's ed teacher and we get paid the same. While it bums me out that I am not always 100% available to my family even though I am not, technically, at work, I knew that going in, and I think writing letters of rec is along the same lines. There is an expectation that we will do everything we need to do, no matter the actual time it takes.
This is a rather difficult issue to respond to. There are so many aspects of our job that we do that aren't specifically in our job description and for which we get no pay, credit or time off! The difficulty is that this is not a fixed part of our job, and often in my experience it is the more popular teachers that are asked for recommendation letters by their students rather than the ones that the students do not like. Therefore there is a problem if extra hours are given for this task when there is no way of ensuring that all teachers have to write the same number of recommendation letters.
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